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Introduction to SyDe

Data Acquisition Systems and LabVIEW

Mini Lab 1008 Module

(Data Acquisition & Analysis Hardware)

USB Interface

Figure 1 - SyDe292 Data Acquisition System.


The undergraduate teaching lab of Systems Design Engineering has 10 lab stations. Each
station is equipped with a PC (Pentium 800 MHz, Win XP Pro), installed with

Mini Lab1008 Data AcQuisition Modules (DAQ) and LabVIEW software (LabVIEW is
a trademark of National Instrument Corporation). The DAQ Modules from Measurement
Computing Inc. are rugged USB-based DAQ devices with: 8 channels of 12-bit analog
input, two analog outputs and 4 DIO bits brought out to clearly- labled screw terminals
(12-28 gage wire). 24 additional DIO bits are provided on a 37-pin connector with an
industry standard pin-out. For detailed specs, please see the module specifications.

The drivers provided with the Measurement Computing (MCC) DAQ modules do not
offer direct control of the hardware from the LabVIEW software. Please see figure 1.1 for
hierarchical communication link between LabVIEW and the MCC Minilab1008 DAQ.

InstaCal MiniLab1008
(DAQ Drivers) DAQ Module

Universal Library
for LabVIEW


Figure 1.1 – LabVIEW Software and DAQ system

LabVIEW is the emerging standard in visual programming based instrumentation control
systems. LabVIEW is programmed with a set of graphical icons (called "G") which are
connected with "wires". The combination of a DAQ board and LabVIEW software makes
a virtual instrument or a VI. A VI can perform like an instrument and is programmable by
the software with the advantage of flexibility of logging the data that is being measured.

Computer based Data Acquisition Overview:

This overview will help you understand the basics of data acquisition on a computer.

Traditionally, measurements are done on stand alone instruments of various types-

oscilloscopes, multimeters, counters etc. However, the need to record the measurements
and process the collected data for visualization has become increasingly important.

There are several ways in which the data can be exchanged between instruments and a
computer. Many instruments have a serial port which can exchange data to and from a
computer or another instrument.

Another way to measure signals and transfer the data into a computer is by using a Data
Acquisition board. A typical commercial DAQ card or module allows input of analog
signals through an ADC and output of analog signals through a DAQ. In addition a DAQ
card may facilitate input and output of digital signals.

In the following overview we will attempt to explain various aspects of a DAQ system
used in the Systems Design Engineering Undergraduate Teaching Lab.
The data is acquired by an ADC using a process called sampling. Sampling an analog
signal occurs at discrete time intervals. The rate at which the signal is sampled is known
as the sampling frequency. The process of sampling generates values of the signal as a
function of time as shown in following figure:

Figure 2 - Sampling Process

The sampling frequency determines the quality of the analog signal conversion process.
A Higher sampling frequency achieves better conversion of the analog signals. The
minimum sampling frequency required to represent the signal should be at least twice the
maximum frequency of the analog signal under test (this is called the Nyquist rate). In the
following figure an example of sampling is shown. If the sampling frequency is equal or
less then twice the frequency of the input signal, a signal of lower frequency is generated
from such a process (this is called aliasing).

Figure 3 - Effects of Sampling and aliasing due to undersampling

Once the signal has been sampled, the analog signal is converted into a digital code. This
process is called analog to digital conversion. This is shown in Figure 4

Figure 4 - Analog to Digital Conversion for a 3-bit ADC

Commercially available boards allow for different ranges of sampling frequencies. The
DAQ modules in the Systems Undergraduate Lab have a 12 bit ADC with sampling rate
up to 1.2 KHz.

Most boards also have a multiplexer that acts a like a switch to feed different channels to
the ADC. Therefore with 1 ADC, it is possible to have a multi-channel input DAQ board.
All boards in the Systems Undergraduate Lab are 8 channel analog input boards. This
makes it possible to acquire up to 8 analog signals in parallel.


Precision of the analog to digital conversion process is dependent upon the number of bits
the ADC uses. The resolution of the converted signal is a functio n of the number of bits
the ADC uses to represents the digital data. The higher the resolution, the higher the
number of divisions the voltage range is broken into, and therefore, the smaller the
detectable voltage changes. An 8 bit ADC gives 256 levels (2^8) compared to a 12 bit
ADC that has 4096 levels (2^12). Resolution of Teaching Lab MiniLab1008 in
differential mode is 12 bits and 11 bits in the single ended configuration.
The LSB (Least Significant Bit) varies with the operating input voltage range of the
ADC. Figure 5 illustrates the resolution for a 3 bit ADC. If FS (Full Scale) of the input
signal is 10V than the LSB for a 3-bit ADC corresponds to 10/2^3=1.25V. That is not
very good! However, for a 12 bit ADC the least significant bit will be
10/2^12=10/4096=2.44mV. If one needs to detect smaller changes, one has to use a
higher resolution ADC. Clearly, the resolution is an important characteristic of the DAQ

Figure 5. Resolution of ADC, X axis is analog input

Ideally if the voltage applied to the input of an ADC is increased linearly, we would
expect the digital codes to increment linearly as shown in figure 6.

Figure 6 - Transfer characteristic of a ideal ADC.

A perfect DAQ board will have no non- linearity but most commercially available boards
display some non- linearity. This specification is clearly stated as differential non-
linearity. The following figure (Figure 7) shows the result of non-linearity.

Figure 7. Differential Non- linearity of ADC

Settling Time

On a typical board, the analog signal is first selected by a multiplexer, and then sampled
before it is converted by the ADC. The sample & hold circuit used between the
multiplexer and the ADC must be able to track the output of the multiplexer, otherwise
the ADC will convert the signal that is still in transition from the previous channel value
to the current channel value. Poor settling time is a major problem because it changes
with sampling rate and the gain of the DAQ board

Data Transfers to the computer

Typically, DAQ boards are installed in a PC with a high speed data bus like the PCI bus.
MiniLab1008 communicates with a PC via the USB protocol. Depending on the speed of
the motherboard of the PC, the maximum data transfers can occur between
microprocessor and memory at 20 MHz to 40 MHz.

As you may now conclude, that sampling frequency and resolution are very important
factors in determining the performance of a DAQ card. But, in addition to the sampling
speed, there are other factors that can affect the functionality of a DAQ system.
Digital to Analog Converter

The multifunction boards also have on-board digital to analog converters (DAC). A DAC
can generate an analog output from a digital input. This allows the board to generate
analog signals, both dc and ac voltages. Like the ADC, the DAC's performance is limited
by the number of samples it can process and the number of bits that are used in
converting the digital code into an analog signal.

Figure 10 - Sine wave generation from a 3-bit digital code.

Figure 10 shows how a sinusoid waveform is converted by a 3 bit DAC. A DAC with
small settling time and high slew rate (rate at which an amplifier can respond to change in
input) can generate high frequency signals, because little time is needed to accurately
change the output to a new voltage level.

Using high performance DAQ cards and fast computers, and data processing software
like LabVIEW, one can achieve performance similar to expensive bench top instruments.
The virtual instruments (VIs) can therefore control an output, process the input signals
and log the data.
LabVIEW Software

DAQ hardware without software is of little use and without proper controls, the hardware
can be very difficult to utilize. The purpose of having appropriate software is the

• Acquire data at a specified sampling rate

• Acquire data in the background while processing in the foreground
• Stream data to and from disk

LabVIEW integrate different DAQ boards in a computer and use various functions of a
DAQ board from a single user interface.

In figure 1.1 a complete DAQ system with LabVIEW is shown. The driver software is a
lower level driver that is installed using InstaCal software which does all of the

• Hardware detection (DAQ boards)

• Assigning device numbers
• Board Calibration
• Board Configurations e.g. differential or single-ended

For more information on board configuration please see miniLAB1008 user’s guide.

Once the hardware is detected via InstaCal, the universal library functions communicate
with InstaCal and pass the parameters to LabVIEW.

Please refer to “LabVIEW Tutorial for Data Acquisition” document to learn how to write
your own DAQ VI.


1. "LabVIEW - Graphical Programming for Instruments, User Manual", National


2. LabVIEW for Everyone: Graphical Programming Made Even Easier by Lisa K. Wells,
National Instruments, and Jeffrey.

3. "LabVIEW Data Acquisition Basics Manual", National Instruments.


Created by Tariq Naqvi, October 29,2004.